Utilizing Taekwondo in Stand-Up Fighting (with videos)
Originally Written on Oct 16, 2011. Updated on July 23, 2019.
This article is part of a loose series on Traditional Martial Arts in MMA featured on this blog - including Utilizing Karate in Stand-Up Fighting and Utilizing Wing Chun Kung Fu in Stand-Up Fighting.
Traditional martial arts, in the realm of combat sports or mixed martial arts (MMA), are seen as mostly useless and a waste of time in their effort vs. effectiveness output ratio in a real fight or stand-up rules sports match.
While we can argue all day about which martial arts fall under this category, one of these martial arts that particularly gets a bad reputation and often lumped into this category is Taekwondo.
Having trained in Taekwondo, we understand that the art itself has evolved into a sport and lost many of its other techniques in favour of only focusing on kicks.
Competition Taekwondo, at the lower and middle levels, also looks tame in comparison to full contact Muay Thai kickboxing bouts.
However, high-level, Olympic-level Taekwondo in the Adult Men's Division, is definitely not without its uses.
To the average MMA athlete who has only trained in kickboxing or Muay Thai (as it has become the default go-to striking art for combat sports), they have very little experience or exposure with what Taekwondo techniques were like.
In the world of kicking, the average Muay Thai kickboxer is only taught / accustomed to two basic kicks:
- Roundhouse kick
- Push kick (teep)
Taekwondo, being a martial art known for its kicks, has many more techniques:
- Roundhouse kick
- Roundhouse fake low to high head kick (Question Mark / Brazilian kick)
- Double Roundhouse kicks (Switch kick)
- Push kick to Chasing push kick (also used in Muay Thai)
- Fake push kick to switch roundhouse kick (combining the push and roundhouse kicks together)
- Side-kick to Chasing side-kick (used by Stephen Thompson)
- Back kick (Urijah Hall)
- Reverse / spinning hook kick (used by Edson Barboza)
- Axe kick / Crescent kick (used by Andy Hug)
- Jumping Roundhouse kick
- Suicide / cartwheel high kick (used by Anthony Pettis)
Etcetera. You get the point.
Of course, that isn't to say that if one person knows 10,000 techniques, they will beat the man who only knows 1 technique but has practiced it 10,000 times. That quote was, of course, made famous by Bruce Lee.
However, if two martial artists faced off and provided they were equal in size, weight, and skill level, then the one who knows more techniques and can implement their game will have the advantage.
And why not know more? Would we rather know less?
By utilizing Taekwondo techniques in our stand-up game, we can better mix up our strikes, stay creative, and ultimately stay unpredictable.
If our opponent cannot time our rhythm or guess what we're going to do next because they're unfamiliar with our patterns, timing, or techniques, then they're going to sit there and get hit "for free", meaning they won't be able to block or counter your attacks.
Don't only throw Taekwondo strikes however, as you need to mix it up with punches and other kicks in order to sustain its effectiveness.
If you can add spinning kicks to the mix then even better - as that will confuse your opponent even more, but that's when we get really fancy, extra risky, and probably unnecessary.
However, as risky as they may seem, fancy kicks can actually work in a real fight - due to their unpredictability.
The Pros Do Taekwondo, Too
Anderson Silva, the former UFC Middleweight Champion and consensus Greatest Middleweight Fighter of All Time, is a Taekwondo black belt himself. Half of the kicks he throws are Taekwondo based.
He uses switch kicks, back kicks, and front snap kicks; his most famous being his foot-planting knockout of Vitor Belfort.
Muay Thai purists will argue that this is a Muay Thai technique (Teep / push kick); we're not here to argue that.
The truth is that the front snap kick can be found in many martial arts systems (including Karate); Anderson Silva is simply an artist and was able to utilize it to its most devastating potential.
Anthony Pettis' kicks and movement are also Taekwondo based (he has a black belt in the art), his most famous kick being the acrobatic "Showtime Kick" he utilized against Ben Henderson (who himself, is also a Taekwondo black belt).
The obvious counter-arguments against Taekwondo / traditional martial arts are that:
- You need to be a high level traditional martial artist to pull off these moves in a real fight, and;
- Its effectiveness will start to drop once you face an equally skilled kickboxer / Muay Thai practitioner.
While there is, of course, truths to these statements, the point of this article is not to argue against or for these viewpoints, as it has become obvious that any skilled martial artist with enough training, can make any discipline work for them.
However, the interesting point we do want to highlight is that we in today's world where everyone is training in some form of "modernized" martial art / combat sport / MMA - a lot of their technique is in fact watered down in cross-training and/or lost in its aerobic / fitness-focused schools.
It pays to have a strong foundation in a traditional martial art that focuses on sparring (such as Taekwondo) - rounded out with further knowledge from other combat arts in order to utilize your "base" art to its potential - so that one possesses a wealth of tools to whip out when needed.
- Dynasty Team